As part of his dissertation in 1989, Dr. John Byl, emeritus professor of physical education at Redeemer University College, was researching the role of women in the history of Physical Education in Canada.
Byl decided to focus his research on the Margaret Eaton School. “The Margaret Eaton School was significant in developing physical education for women, in developing the Little Theatre Movement in Canada, in providing most of the Physical Education Directors for Canadian YWCAs in the 1930s, and in paving the way in the development of Outdoor Education Training.” He added, “One of MES’s most lasting contributions was in amalgamating with the University of Toronto to create Canada’s first Bachelor of Physical Education programme.”
The school’s founding principal, Emma Scott (1880-1942), had developed a ground breaking approach to teaching by balancing theory with experiential learning. But Byl discovered that “Its history had not been told or recognized because it was a women’s school.”
During his research, Byl interviewed more than 100 graduates of the school, and collected from them not just stories but books, yearbooks, calendars, photo albums, course notes, and other archival material. A significant contribution was also made by a family who found letters and other documents in an attic of a home that Emma had once lived in. Through his research, which was aided by student researchers and library staff, he came across a video of Scott Raff.The video was posted by a “Robert Young” from North Carolina. After some digging, Byl discovered it was Bob Young, “Caretaker” of the Hamilton Ti-Cats, founder of Red Hat, owner of Lulu.com, and a well-known Hamilton philanthropist—focusing on increasing access to information and the advancement of knowledge. Young, it turns out, is also the great-grandson of Emma Scott Raff.
Young has a great interest in the school and agreed to fund Byl’s work in digitally archiving the materials at Redeemer, and creating an archive that can be searched worldwide. Marlene Power and Patricia Kok of Redeemer’s Peter Turkstra Library, and two students, Collette van Zeumeren and Emily Power, organized, photographed and prepared a database of the 17,000 items Byl had collected.
“My mother, Nancy (Fennell) Young, would tell, with great enthusiasm, how famous her grandmother was,” noted Young at a reception celebrating the launch. “Emma Scott Raff, she said, was a remarkable educational innovator who founded the oh-so-important Margaret Eaton School for girls. My family and I would assume that this meant her grandmother had worked at a now-defunct school at some time. Only later would we discover that she really was a remarkable innovator in women’s education.” Since then, Young has been a supporter of what he calls Byl’s “obsession with Great Granny.”
Dr. Byl has more plans to promote awareness of the School and the Collection. Within the next 18 months he hopes to host a conference that will explore topics relating to the school such as women’s education, elocution (the art of delivering speeches, including the proper use of gestures, stance, and dress; it was part of the school’s curriculum) and some of the personalities that graduated from the school.
The Collection is housed in the Peter Turkstra Library at Redeemer and is available online.